UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Somali pirates took in a record of almost $150 million in ransom last year but their ship seizures have dropped significantly since mid-2011, the head of the European Union's anti-piracy fleet said Friday.
Rear Adm. Duncan Potts credited the drop in ship takeovers on the shipping industry's adoption of "best management practices," a significant rise in the use of private armed security teams on ships, the increasing effectiveness of the international military effort, and changes ashore in Somalia, where the nascent governments and some clans are taking a stand against piracy.
There were only three successful Somali pirate seizures in the first half of 2011, compared to 28 in the first half, Potts said at a briefing at the EU's U.N. Mission.
"That trend has continued into 2012," he said. "To date this year — and we're almost a third of the way through it — we have only had four ocean-going merchant ships, i.e. those that can command a substantial ransom, seized successfully by the pirates."
A year ago, 24 ships and over 500 seamen from around the world were held by pirates, he said. Today, the pirates are holding seven ships and just over 200 seamen, and of the seven ships, "only three have a reasonable market value for ransom."
"After a record year for ransom demands last year, where they got almost $150 million in ransom demands, I think it's fair to say at the moment that the pirates may be cash rich but they are definitely asset poor — they have very few tradable assets," Potts said.
The British admiral stressed that "while the activity level is down, the progress that we made is very definitely reversible."
He noted that the pirates concentrated their attacks in the Gulf of Aden in 2008 and 2009 but as pressure grew they moved their operations right up to the Straits of Hormuz, towards India and down into the Mozambique channel.
"We almost saw the peak of their surge about a year ago, but just recently we have seen some incidents back in those areas again," Potts said. "So I think it's fair to say the Somali pirates will seek to go where we are not and there are viable targets."